Human rights group reviewing police tactics at TUSD meeting

Published: May. 7, 2011 at 1:16 AM MST|Updated: Mar. 2, 2018 at 4:19 PM MST
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A human rights group is investigating claims by people who say they were hurt by officers at Tuesday night's raucous TUSD board meeting.

At least 27 people contacted Coalicion de Derechos Humanos at their office on South Sixth Street, saying they were manhandled by police.

Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villasenor defended some of his officers, and said he will review the actions of others.

Many protesters who were injured during the protests said they had lost trust in Tucson police.

Tensions came to a head after the public comment portion of the school board meeting.

The matter at hand was making parts of the ethnic studies program an elective, instead of a requirement.

Protesters want to keep the program intact, stating it helped boost graduation rates and enriched the education of students by teaching them about their history and culture.

When public comment ended, several in the audience came up to the podium anyway, demanding to speak.

Police in riot gear were then called in to take people out. The meeting stopped for a while, then resumed a few minutes later.

About seven people were taken away by police during the course of the meeting.

The doors were locked, and many were not allowed into the meeting room.

Dozens of protesters outside the building started forming a human chain in protest of police actions.  They linked elbows and sat down on the ground.

Villasenor said they were blocking access to a prisoner escort van, and officers asked them to move.

When they did not move, Villasenor said police took measures to remove them forcibly.

A YouTube video captured by production company Pan Left showed police pushing people out of the way, and shoving a couple of them to the ground.

A woman who declined to give us her name but did talk to us on camera said, "One officer came in front of me and tried to pull me up by my hair using both hands and actually took quite a bit of my hair out of my head."

The woman also said, "They picked us up by our pressure points behind our ears and underneath our jaws. They twisted people's arms."

Juliana Leon,  TUSD student who said she sprained her wrist after she an officer pushed her to the ground said, "What I see is a bunch of cops pulling people's hair and hitting them from behind and kneeing them. I saw my mom's face being pushed onto the floor."

Her mother, Tanya Alvarez showed us bruises, saying an officer stepped on her foot, crushing her calf muscle and Achilles tendon.

"I'm in a lot of pain. It hurts a lot.".

Villasenor said the protestors should have just done what they were told.

"They were told to move they didn't. When I look at that video, I see officers using appropriate measures to remove them from the building.  But I see that some were launched away from that area outside. Is that a tactic we teach? No."

We asked the protesters whether they had filed a police report.

A man who declined to be identified said, "I want the chief to know we're not coming and speaking to the police because we don't trust the police."

Villasenor urged them to contact them and file a report, saying they would review the matter.

"I'm not going to say we couldn't do better here. We're going to evaluate our actions as we do in every critical event."